An Experience of the Senses
Reading reviews of new motorcycles and scooters I often feel the writers are missing the point as they focus on machinery, specifications and performance metrics, reducing riding to a quantitative assessment of engineering. Perhaps marketing research and reader testing has revealed that’s what most people want.
Making a decision on what two-wheeled machine to purchase is serious and personal. We may end up looking alike on the road in the way we dress and act, but for a moment, we are unique.
Riding through Bald Eagle State Forest last week I was reminded that the machine often fades away as I’m overtaken by human biology and an experience of the senses.
There’s almost always a thrill at the beginning of a ride. In part the anticipation of unexpected experience is at work, but a larger measure the thrill of the senses being engaged in ways largely overlooked during everyday life. At least by me.
It starts early when I walk outside to feel the air on my skin as I decide exactly what I’m going to wear. Or the the cold chrome seat rail against my hand as I push the Vespa into the driveway. Feet buzzing in heavy leather boots and the warmth of the sun on my face as I adjust my helmet.
As the ride approaches the senses spin up in a celebration of being alive.
Riding through Amish country provided an array of warm weather fragrances — the scent of fresh cut Timothy hay and the aroma of horse manure from the horse drawn buggies and carriages seen in this part of the county.
As always, I’m struck by how much I miss hurtling down the road in the van with windows closed and the air conditioner removing most references to the outside world.
Riding presents an ongoing challenge to mind as the brain works to process sensory input from the body. Decisions are made at an ongoing and withering pace in hopes of remaining smiling and safe on the road.
The two signs, placed at the apex of a hairpin turn presented a visual question mark, my brain seeking to process the sensory data from my eyes. It only took an instant but in that moment I made a decision to stop, look and make a photograph.
Riding as Spiritual Experience
Moving slowly through Bald Eagle State Forest was like meditation.
The visual changes in light, the vibrations of the road felt in the hands, a passing scent of wildflower or damp leaves in a cool glen, all of these things are part of an ongoing, sustainable orgasm of sensory experience that makes riding more than recreation, expand beyond transportation to something akin to a vital spiritual experience.
A pilot described the first time he could sense the curvature of the earth as a spiritual experience.
So it can be with riding.
It’s hard not to notice the blessing of fresh water in central Pennsylvania. Almost everywhere I ride there are streams, creeks and rivers — slivers of sparkling silver reminding of their value in supporting life. As a rider I appreciate the sudden cool air on a hot day when the Vespa passes under the canopy of trees along the water.
Even on a clear day the forest can be dark. Riding along the smaller trails in the forest can make a rider think the sun has abandoned the day. I think of the first European settlers moving through these vast forests going days and weeks with barely a glimpse of the sky. The lack of light plays with the mind and for me can create ideas and images of the fantastic. The Vespa scooter continues on in the dark.
There are elves in this wood.
Eventually I emerged from the forest for food and fuel and wandered awhile along the Susquehanna River between Williamsport and Lock Haven. Riding in more developed areas provides a different experience of sight, sound and smell. Power lines were everywhere as were fumes from the exhaust of trucks or the strong smell of creosote from freshly laid railroad ties.
Railroads are fascinating creatures whose tentacles stretch across the nation. In another life I might have made a choice to work for one. Or become a railfan chasing trains across the country with camera in hand. Whenever I can during a ride I stop to admire the view and dream of times gone by.
Still an hour from home on a direct route and my phone indicating rain on the way I shifted from wanderer to express rider in hopes of avoiding some of the rain. Ended up riding through two short downpours that were heavy enough to cause me to consider putting on the rain suit.
As the ride drew to a close I saw the world change from bright to dark, the wind and rain transform cozy to cool and the new smells of of wet pavement and moist air join me until I got home — another experience of the senses.